Sitka to host second annual Alaska Walk and Bike Conference on June 9-13

Are you looking for ways to make Alaska more walking and bicycling friendly? Sitka will host the second annual Alaska Walk and Bike Conference on June 9-13, with the theme of Walk.Bike.Roll. Creating an Equitable Transportation System For All.

While the agenda is still being finalized, but the plan is to bring in a couple of national speakers talk about walking and biking policy, as well as some Alaska and local presenters to round out the event. Our tentative national speakers are Ken McLeod, policy director of the League of American Bicyclists, and Ana Lucaci and Nicole Huguenin of Walk2Connect, a Denver-based nonprofit that has recently worked with Kodiak Walks.

The first two days will mostly be geared toward walking and the second two days will be geared toward biking. To get you out of the conference room, we hope to include group hikes, bike rides, a walk audit, a bike maintenance workshop, and other events throughout the week. Saturday features some free community events — a guided hike, a Sitka Cycling Club group bike ride, and an open house at the Salty Spoke Bike Collective. We will post a tentative agenda when it is ready.

Why is this conference in Sitka? Sitka is the only community in Alaska with both a Bicycle Friendly Community designation (Silver) and a Walk Friendly Communities designation (Bronze). This is a chance to see what works in Sitka, learn more about Walk Sitka and the Sitka Cycling Club and how they deal with some of the challenges they still face in their efforts to become more walkable and bikeable.

Prices for the Alaska Walk and Bike Conference are low — $50 for the full conference, or $30 for the two days of June 9-10 or June 11-12. This year we also will have a special half-day price for either a morning or afternoon session. There will be a couple of lunchtime events, such as lunch-and-learns, that will be open to the public.

Please use this website to register online. We accept online payments by PayPal or credit/debit cards, and if you select the invoice option there is info about where to mail your check. You can find more details about the event at https://walkbikealaska.wordpress.com. You can register at http://akwalkbikeconference.eventsmart.com (click on the event name and follow the instructions).

For more details, contact Doug Osborne at (907) 966-8674 or douglaso@searhc.org, or email akwalkbikeconference@gmail.com. We will have a limited number of travel scholarships available. To learn more and to get an application, contact Dawn Groth at dawn.groth@alaska.gov.

Join Walk/Bike Alaska’s 2019 team in the APHA’s 1 Billion Steps Challenge

Are you a regular walker, one who uses a pedometer or fitness app to track your daily step count? Then join the Walk Sitka team in the American Public Health Association‘s 1 Billion Steps Challenge, a national event that runs from Jan. 1 through April 7, 2019. The contest ends after National Public Health Week (April 1-7).

This event is free, and the competition helps motivate people to get out and do more walking. Many people set a goal to walk 10,000 steps a day, and that adds up over the contest that lasts just a bit longer than three months.

In 2017, Walk Sitka only had one person walking (Charles Bingham), but he recorded more than half-a-million steps while averaging about 8,500 a day (finishing in the top 60 teams). Last year, Walk Sitka had two people walking (Karen Hegyi and Charles Bingham), and Walk Sitka recorded more than 2.8 million steps (an average of 14,655 steps a day) to finish fourth overall. There was one other identifiable Alaska team in last year’s Billion Steps Challenge — Anchorage Public Health DHHS — which recorded more than 14.5 million steps but only had an average of 3,529 steps per day to finish 176th overall. There were 400 teams in the 2018 event, who totaled more than 2.2 billion steps.

To sign up, click this link and register using the code APHA2019. Once you’re registered, you should be directed to this link. Click on the View All Teams link, then scroll toward the bottom to find the Walk/Bike Alaska logo. Then click the Join Team button and you’re in.

The challenge uses a website called MoveSpring, which links to a variety of fitness apps for automatic registration of steps. But if you’re old school and use a pedometer clipped to your belt, there is a link so you can manually enter your steps.

Alaska ranked 36th in the 2017 Bicycle Friendly States rankings. Let’s see if we can improve our ranking

When the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) released its Bicycle Friendly States rankings in 2017, Alaska was listed in 36th place overall.

Over the last several years, Alaska has floated between the mid-30s and mid-40s in the rankings. So how do we improve our ranking? We should be better than this.

When you look at some of the category rankings, we are even lower than 36th place. There are five main categories on the scorecard, and Alaska ranked 37th in Infrastructure and Funding, 37th in Evaluation and Planning, 45th in Policies and Programs, 47th in Education and Encouragement, and 50th (last) in Legislation and Enforcement.

According to the scorecard:

Alaska is a unique state, large and largely rural. Alaska typically has higher per capita transportation spending and their data on biking and walking reflects this as well, easily being the highest per capita spending figure in the United States, despite Alaska spending a smaller percentage of federal funds on biking and walking than average.

Each category reflects that Alaska does not have much supportive policy infrastructure to ensure the safety and mobility of people who bike. This may reflect the uniqueness of Alaska, which may make it more difficult to adapt successful policies and practices from more urban or more compact states. However, the state would benefit from a plan for promoting the safety and mobility of people who bike in Alaska in a way that is geared towards the unique characteristics of Alaska and takes advantage of the tourism potential and already relatively high percentage of the population that bikes to work. The experiences of states like Vermont (#14) and Maine (#17) may be instructive.

The scorecard listed five bicycle friendly action items, and Alaska hadn’t accomplished four of them — Complete Streets Law/Policy, Safe Passing Law (3-feet-plus), Statewide Bike Plan Updated In Last 10 Years, and 2-Percent or More of Federal Funds Spent on Bike/Pedestrian Needs. The only bicycle friendly action item we showed progress on was Bicycle Safety Emphasis Area.

In other words, we have some work to do. One place we should improve soon is in our statewide bike plan. The Alaska Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan is currently being updated, and is nearing the end of a process that’s taken nearly two years. While the process has taken a long time, it’s been needed since Alaska’s last plan was updated in November 1994.

Another need mentioned in previous scorecards is Alaska is one of the few states without a statewide bicycle advocacy group. That’s why we’re hoping the Walk/Bike Alaska spurs Alaska bicycle and walking advocates into creating a statewide advocacy group.

Alaska does have three Bicycle Friendly Communities (Sitka at Silver level, Anchorage at Silver level, Juneau at Bronze level, plus Fairbanks at Honorable Mention which is the level below an official BFC designation). Alaska also had 10 Bicycle Friendly Businesses at the time of the ranking (note, the number has dropped to eight BFBs since some businesses have not renewed their rankings), and one Bicycle Friendly University (University of Alaska Fairbanks at Silver level). We need to get more BFCs and BFBs in Alaska.

What other things can Alaska do to improve it’s ranking?

Welcome to Walk/Bike Alaska

Walk/Bike Alaska is a new group designed to help promote biking and walking in Alaska. We have several small community biking and walking groups, but nothing organized as a statewide advocacy program. It’s hoped this group will help foster some statewide bike and walk advocacy programs.

Why should we promote bicycling and walking? Obviously, any kind of physical activity is good for you and the health benefits are many. But this is about more than just exercise. For many Alaskans, bicycling or walking is their only form of transportation, especially for our children and our elders. If we don’t provide safe places to walk or bike, then these people can’t get around without feeling like their lives are in peril. Many of our roads are not designed with adequate bike lanes or sidewalks, and so we advocate for Complete Streets policies, http://www.completestreets.org. Another good site is the National Center for Bicycling and Walking, http://www.bikewalk.org/.

Here are a couple of other national sites to check out:

Alliance for Biking and Walking (formerly Thunderhead Alliance), http://www.peoplepoweredmovement.org/

The Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, http://www.pedbikeinfo.org/

League of American Bicyclists, http://www.bikeleague.org/

Please keep an eye on this site, because we will be adding lots of content and there will be links to dozens of local bicycle, pedestrian and trail organizations from around the state. We also will link to national and international groups that promote bicycling and walking as modes of transportation.

For more information about this new group and to volunteer, please contact Charles Bingham in Sitka at 907-623-7660 or charleswbingham3@gmail.com